Douglas Campbell Review. Deliverance, Liberation, Freedom, Apocalyptic, Christology, Participation.
“This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.”
Douglas Campbell's massive 900+ page book, "The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic rereading of Justification in Paul,"is a force to be reckoned with. It's a behemoth of a book and scholarship (I hope all people become familiar with this monster). Campbell's re-reading of Paul has caused quite the stir amongst the “Lutheran justification by faith alone” camp (JT has dominated the church of the west for some time now/He gives a charitable reading of Luther). They have been enjoying the campfire for a long time, but Campbell is attempting to throw water on the fire, quenching the long held belief that Paul was a justification/faith alone apostle (at least the Justification theory that I will be discussing). Campbell is not doing this mean spirited or with the intent of causing division (he's trying to bring clarity to the conversions taking place). From reading his book, it seems he is trying to help improve our God-talk and how we think of God's action in and through Jesus and His overall Character.
There have been mixed reactions, some very positive and others really negative. Many are confused on how Campbell can take issue with what they deem as a freeing Gospel. After all, was it not Luther who felt the gates of heaven open before him after understanding God's justifying judicial work on his behalf? Why seek to undermine many people's long held, cherished Gospel? We must remember that the Church has had a variety of interpretations (Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, Barth, Wright, Dunn, Witherington III, etc.). Let's begin with Paul's experience of the risen Christ, without this experience we might not be discussing anything by Paul.
Paul's conversion and apocalyptic experience.
Campbell makes the claim that Paul was not contemplating his sinfulness as Luther did. If this was the case for Paul, why would he say he was “blameless with the law, he was zealous for his traditions and was living perfectly fine in Judaism” (see Phil. 3:5, my own paraphrase)." Only after his revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ did he see clearly (willing to count his accomplishments as dung before the risen Christ). This brings us back to another Pauline point found in the letter of Ephesians, "dead in our sin and Christ makes us alive," to revelation and truth (humans need to be rescued and liberated from the powers of the Adamic curse). It's not that humans don't know sin, but our knowledge of sin does not lead us with the capability (mental faculties are extremely skewed) to reason that we need God; and especially that Jesus is revealed truth. In other words, humans need to be delivered and rescued from deadness first. Only after being rescued and experiencing the risen Christ does one look back on their life as a pile of "dung." The Apocalyptic (revelation) reading of salvation aligns with many people's experience of the risen Christ. Most people were not seeking God or desiring to know God, and then suddenly in steps Jesus Christ, and boom "Christian, in Christ, revelation, life transformation."
What is Romans 1-3 really about according to Campbell? (Justification Theory)
According to Campbell, Paul is dealing with some kind of teacher who is arguing for a the JT model of salvation (justification theory/ JT). Romans 1-3 is typically read as Paul explaining "plight to solution," and then this leads to a saving knowledge of Jesus (which Campbell calls forward thinking). According to Campbell, this is mistaken and is actually two different salvation theories. Campbell's point is simple: humans can't reason their way to God (as Calvin wrote in his institutes/ my own Calvin emphasis added). God has to open our eyes and hearts (revelation) to see Jesus Christ clearly. Otherwise, if humans can reason their way to God, then this undermines Christ' salvific work (think Athanasius, Barth, etc.).
We are guilty of Pelagianism (believing human nature is still pretty good). The question is this: why would Paul teach a forward gospel? That is, "plight to solution," if Paul had a revelation (apocalypse) experience of the risen Christ? Wouldn't he be against such a forward reading of salvation? Humans do not know they have a plight until after their experience (revelation) of Jesus Christ, but even this plight is much more serious than the JT model sets out to argue. Humans need to be delivered from their slavery and sin nature, humans cannot be held accountable if they are truly born in the Adamic curse in fair and honest JT Model. The good news is that Jesus delivers humans from their Adamic natures, giving them a new nature and participating with God in the good-news.
Another danger of Justification theory, according to Campbell, is the tendency of misrepresenting/caricaturing Judaism as a whole. In other words, if Jews are thought to have been working their way towards salvation and seeking to earn "righteousness, a status before God" (see Sanders for an in depth study on this), "Paul and Palestinian Judaism." Campbell moves beyond the new and old perspectives, and Justification theory rides on the backs of millions of Jews past, present and, God forbid, the future, deeming them as wrong and mistaken on a host of things and accusing all of them in the process (there are two plans: plan A and B). One only needs to look at the history of the Christian and Jewish Schism and see there has been a belief that Jews are somehow usurped and replaced by this forward reading of Romans 1-3. And of course, a surface level reading of many New Testament texts has lead to Christians persecuting Jews (note: Jewish literature was not one single view, there was a plethora of views that Jews held. Saying they held to one single view and projecting it on all Jews is not a wise or fair assessment). Another point Campbell sets out to make in Rom. 1-3 is that JT (justification theory) is a "contractual retributive" reading of salvation. Contractual…confused by this? Campbell simply means a conditional reading of salvation; if you obey well! If not, God disowns you (this seems to be the implication of the contractual reading/which has always played a role in the schism between Jews and Christians understanding of covenant). Retribution is the act where God pays you back for everything you have done. Where does this lead to in the JT model? Jesus took on God's wrath because God was angry with you. Jesus takes God's beating for you (retribution), in other words God was really mad and needed a punching bag, and Jesus stepped in your place (there are many different ways of reading penal). The penal model has typically found it's way in Romans (Penal theory asserts God's wrath needed to be appeased, Jesus' death appeases God's anger towards you). In these two readings (contractual/retributive), Campbell contributes largely to a misunderstanding of justice, and a failed understanding of covenantal language (see Chapter 6 of DOG/Beyond old and New perspectives). This of course, in Campbell's understanding, leads to a distorted view of Christ/God/Spirit saving action on behalf of humanity (Romans 5-8).
Campbell understands Romans 1-3 largely as an angry judge, not a loving father (the teacher's view). Many have accused Campbell of basically believing in a weak God who lacks wrath and discipline. The problem with many of these detractors is that Campbell argues the opposite. In Campbell's view, God is a loving parental father, who does get angry (wrath) but it's in the context of a parent and child relationship not in a judicial court setting (love holds no records of wrongs 1 Cor. 13). Many at this point will say, “what's the difference then, does not the JT mode of salvation teach this?” The answer, according to Campbell's thesis, is no. The JT mode of salvation is largely built off the premise of a judicial contractual retributive relationship with God, whereas God's love is conditioned on human response. In Campbell’s reading, one must ask “Is God completely faithful to His covenant and commitment for better or worse?”
Campbell believes that Paul's Gospel is seen very clearly in Romans 5-8, let’s discuss it.
Campbell seeks to show that Paul's gospel is largely revealed in Rom. 5-8, Paul writes, "But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us." The key and shift in this gospel presentation is this, "God shows his love while we were sinners." God demonstrated love in and through Jesus Christ for us, even before we had a clear understanding of God. This sets the tone for his whole argument against the reading of a Judicial Judge wanting to pour wrath on human beings, and seeking to slam down the gauntlet and sentence, which reads, “guilty.” Campbell believes that God’s good news (gospel) is more transformative than this, more unconditional, which leads us to our next point. Campbell's understanding of the gospel message is the Trinitarian transformative action in and through believers, and that our faith (Rom. 4) is one of participation with God (active faith). In other words, justification and faith alone make little sense in light of how faith and participation language are implied in Romans 4-8. Lets discuss this participation in Christ a little further.
Participation/sanctification as salvation.
There have been debates swirling about how a person is pronounced “Saved” since Christianity first took root in Palestine/Roman Empire. Campbell’s thesis is that this idea of being saved is a participation in the trinity at work in believers (Rom. 5-8, God, Jesus, Spirit) and saved by the faithfulness of Christ. The faith we do have as believers is itself an active faith (Rom. 4), but this active faith comes from being in Christ. Sanctification/participation is God’s salvific work in the life of the believer. Another thing you can glean from Campbell’s work in salvation is a relational soteriology (study of salvation), and not the opposite. In other words, it’s not rules and regulations (legalism) that keep believers bound to believers, it is faith working itself out in love in human communities (ecclesiology).
Making sense of Campbell's thesis (My own thoughts).
Campbell is attempting to break ground amongst the stones that have been taken for granted. Whether you agree or disagree with his thesis, this is what Campbell is doing. Campbell is attempting to bring the liberating, transformative, and freeing revelation, of Jesus Christ to the academy, sinner and saint, Jew and Christian, female and male, scholar and laymen, pastor and audience, wise and unwise in the hopes of people seeing the love of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ by the Spirit. This is experiencing the apocalyptic love of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This God breaks into our world in and through Jesus Christ, his love for human beings is seen in his actions in becoming human, participating in our flesh (sarx) and putting to death these powers; Jesus Christ is liberating us from the powers of the old world that is coming to an end in and through Jesus Christ when he died and made a public spectacle out of them (see Col. 1). Jesus condemned sinful flesh in his death and body, and was raised (resurrected) for our justification. Who of us will dare raise our hands saying, “I had a clear knowledge of myself and God before I chose to follow him?” No, it’s only after God reveals himself to us, can we confidently say, “I have tasted and seen that the Lord is Good."